A breakthrough on the German branch of my family tree

I have written many posts about my German great-great-grandmother Mary Miller and her daughter Tillie. The fact that I even had German ancestry was one of my first big genealogical discoveries. No one in my family ever mentioned that my mother’s grandmother – who lived into the 1950s at least – was a German immigrant.

Figuring out basic questions about Mary and Tillie Miller has been a huge challenge. When were they born? Where in Germany did they come from? When and why did they emigrate? What happened to Mr. Miller? The best places to look for that information are in marriage certificates, immigration records or naturalization papers. But I couldn’t find any of those.

I first looked for marriage records. I knew from census returns that Tillie Miller married my great-grandfather Jacob Sylvester Agin some time around 1892. But a search through archives in New York and New Jersey turned up nothing. I was informed to my chagrin that ministers didn’t always file marriage certificates with the state, particularly in New Jersey.

I also came across a fascinating collection of newspaper articles documenting Mary’s scandalous third marriage to William Vannote, a famous “woman hater.” Their October 17, 1903 union was covered as a human interest story in papers from coast to coast. But again, even with the actual date and location of the ceremony, I could not find a marriage record in the New Jersey archive. The articles mentioned a second husband, a George Hendrick or possibly a Gus Hendrock, whom she divorced. But I didn’t know where to begin to look for their marriage record.

I searched in vain through immigration records online, but with a common name like Miller (or the more German Müller) and a vague date of some time in the 1880s, I had no luck. And I checked to see if there was a naturalization file in the National Archives, but it turns out that before 1906 women were usually naturalized automatically based on their husbands’ citizenship.

The only document I did find was Mary’s 1924 death certificate. It gave her place of birth as “Collenz, Germany.” I thought it might be Coblenz, an old spelling for the city of Koblenz in southwest Germany. Not much to go on.

After hitting all these brick walls, I focused on tracking down records from Mary’s divorce. Some quick research revealed that divorces in New Jersey during that time were handled by the Chancery Court in Trenton. I saw online that the New Jersey state archives had an index of chancery court actions on microfilm. So I traveled down to Trenton to take a look. And it didn’t take me more than ten minutes to find a 1903 case entitled Gustav A. Handrock v. Mary Handrock, case file no. F-39, page 438. This had to be it!

They had to take the file out of deep storage so I couldn’t see it that day. So I ordered copies that took a couple of weeks to arrive by mail.

The case file is 18 pages in total: a handwritten petition for divorce with statements by Gustav and two witnesses; a summons served on Mary (apparently unanswered); the court’s order granting a divorce on the grounds of desertion; and an assessment of costs. It provides a ton of amazing detail about Mary’s second marriage (albeit from the husband’s side). It deserves its own post, which will come soon.

From Gustav’s statement, I learned that he and Mary married in a boarding house in Manhattan on September 24, 1887. A quick look at an invaluable online index of New York City marriages showed that there is a marriage record in the New York City archive for Gustav Handrock and Marie Müller (certificate no. 74373) with the same date.

It was a busy week at work but I finally got down to the archive on Friday to get a copy of that marriage certificate. It answers many old questions – even as it presents one more vexing puzzle.

Marriage certificate for my great-great-grandmother Marie Müller's second marriage to Gustav Adolphus Handrock, dated Sept. 24, 1887.

Marriage certificate for my great-great-grandmother Marie Müller’s second marriage to Gustav Adolphus Handrock, dated Sept. 24, 1887. Click to enlarge.

There are two separate pages, one landscape and one vertical. On the “Certificate of Marriage,” we see that the couple was married by a Rev. C.H. Ebert of the Reformed Emigrant Mission, located at 50 New Street in lower Manhattan, just south of Wall Street. I googled Ebert and learned he appointed by the Reformed Church in 1884 as “harbor missionary at the Port of New York to labor among the immigrants arriving at our shores, especially the Germans.”

We also see that Tillie, then 14 years old, was one of the witnesses – and that her name was Ottilie, not Mathilde as I had previously assumed.

On the “Return of a Marriage,” there is a lot of new information (and some new questions):

  • We learn that my great-great-grandmother’s maiden name was Marie Roeder.
  • She said her age was 35 at the time of the marriage. If accurate, that would mean she was born in 1851 or 1852. Gustav was six years younger.
  • We know that Marie’s parents were Franz and Marie Roeder. That means I can now name 22 of my 32 third great-grandparents! The form asked for the mother’s maiden name. Could it have also been Roeder? Or was this just an error? Probably the latter.
  • We have confirmation that this was Marie’s second marriage. The old newspaper articles say she was widowed in Germany, but I did wonder whether she might have been an unwed mother. Knowing that her maiden name was Roeder resolves that once and for all.
Marriage return for my great-great-grandmother Marie Müller's second marriage to Gustav Adolphus Handrock, dated Sept. 24, 1887. Click to enlarge.

Marriage return for my great-great-grandmother Marie Müller’s second marriage to Gustav Adolphus Handrock, dated Sept. 24, 1887. Click to enlarge.

The most interesting detail from the Return of Marriage is found on line 11. For Marie’s place of residence, it says “arr’ by S.S. Wieland from Germany.” With this information, I did a search on ancestry.com and found the immigration records at long last. Intriguingly, Marie and Ottilie Muller arrived in New York on September 23, 1887 – one day before the marriage ceremony!

Passenger manifest from the S.S. Wieland, Sept. 23, 1887. My great-great-grandmother Marie Roeder Mueller is listed their with her daughter (and my great-grandmother Ottilie). Click to enlarge.

Passenger manifest from the S.S. Wieland, Sept. 23, 1887. My great-great-grandmother Marie Roeder Mueller is listed their with her daughter (and my great-grandmother Ottilie). See line 113 and 114 near the top. Click to enlarge.

I looked for Gustav’s immigration records and learned he traveled to America in 1881 – and then again in 1886. It’s not clear how much time he spent back in Germany, but the 1886 immigration records (passenger lists from Hamburg and New York) indicate his home was Rocky Hill, N.J., a small town near Princeton. And the marriage record lists his home as Princeton, where he worked as a farmer.

So how to explain this quickie ceremony by a missionary in a New York City boarding house with no other friends or family present? I suspect that Gustav returned to Germany to find a wife. He found the newly widowed Marie, who needed a husband. So Gustav returned to the States and earned money to bring Marie and Ottilie over a year later. Gustav was probably not a man of means, so maybe a quick private ceremony suited his needs. Or maybe he had no friends or family back home in Rocky Hill to invite to a proper wedding.

On top these fantastic new discoveries, I hoped the marriage record would finally point me to the town Marie and Ottilie came from – the key to tracing the family line back further. But once again I’m stuck. The Return of a Marriage indicates that Marie’s place of birth was “Schenewanz, Schlesien, Prussia.” Schlesien is the German word for Silesia, a part of Germany that became Polish territory after World War II. It’s nowhere near Koblenz, which is too bad because it sounds like a beautiful city.

But my searches online to find Schenewanz have turned up nothing. The spelling seems odd so I tried many variations with no luck. So frustrating! The rest of the form is meticulously filled out, probably by Rev. Ebert. The German names are all correctly rendered. So why would the town name be wrong?

Gustav’s place of birth is listed as Naumburg, Prussia. There is a fairly large city by that name in modern day Sachsen-Anhalt, which I’m told is very nice. But Bob Behnen, a very helpful guy who answered my post an a genealogy message board, has pointed me toward two small towns called Naumburg in old German Silesia, especially Naumburg am Bober. So if my theory is correct that Gustav and Marie lived in the same area and agreed to marry when she arrived in America, then I need to find a town that sounds like Schenewanz near Naumburg-am-Bober.

Hopefully, I’ll solve this mystery and identify my German ancestral hometown with certainty. Still, I feel pretty good about all I have learned about my German roots in a few days’ time. More posts on this to come.

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Keeping track of the Sabols of Raritan, N.J.

My grandmother Anna Sabol was the second-born child of Andrej (Andrew) Sabol and Maria (Mary) Daniel, immigrant parents of Slovak descent. I always assumed that the other members of the Sabol family stayed behind in the old country and that my grandmother never knew her grandparents, aunts, uncles or cousins. But it turns out the Sabol family was well represented in Anna’s hometown of Raritan, N.J. My grandmother grew up knowing a surprisingly large extended family.

From census records and Google searches, I noticed that there were other families named Sabol in Raritan. One person who instantly caught my eye was Andrew Sabol, Jr. A year younger than my great-grandfather, Andrew Jr. lived in the neighborhood and even signed my great-grandparents’ 1896 wedding certificate as a witness. After a fair amount of sleuthing, I figured out that Andrew and Andrew Jr. were cousins. I wrote about the “other Andrew Sabol” in an earlier post.

As for the many other Sabols in Raritan, I just supposed they shared a common last name. But then someone named Ken Sabol wrote to me on this blog:

John:

Thanks for all the great research. I’m going on a roots trip to Slovakia this September–and–amazingly–we have some of the same ancestors. My father, Jan Sabol, Jr., was the son of your grandfather Andrew’s younger brother, Jan. Jan lived on 3rd Street in Raritan, NJ and was married to Elizabeth Ahercik. Both attended the First Evangelical Lutheran Church, where my father (1910-1998) was baptized. My mother, nee Anna Tkacik, was born in Trebejov in 1912 (died 1998), daughter of Mikhail (1889-1962) and Mary (1889-1946) (nee Mazak) Tkacik. Her grandfather, also Mikhail Tkacik (died 1925) was also one of the founders of the First Evangelical Lutheran Church in Raritan.

All were from the same villages you visited and probably attended the church in Obisovce. Your work is invaluable to me as I even have the name of the church where my grandparents birth and marriage records are kept.

With gratitude,

Ken Sabol

I haven’t been able to connect with Ken although I still hope to. (Ken, if you’re reading this, send me an email at johnkowal@mac.com!) But his email opened the door to discovering what happened to a number of Sabol family members who I assumed my great-grandfather left behind.

My great-grandfather Andrej Sabol (1872-1938) was the second of five children. His parents Jan Sabol (1834-1895) and Alžbeta (Elisa) Filak (1843-1921) lived in the small village of Trebejov in the Upper Hungary region of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (now Slovakia). Elisa was literally the girl next door. Jan’s father Michal was her godfather. The couple married in 1867 and Elisa moved in with the Sabol family in their small house at Trebejov 11. They made their livelihoods as farmers, growing crops and raising livestock on an adjacent parcel of land.

Jan Sabol Family ChartWhile their young family remained unscathed when a cholera epidemic swept through in 1873, they tragically lost their oldest child Jan in 1875 – two days after the birth of their daughter Alžbeta. Jan was five years old. In the metrical book kept by the family church in nearby Obišovce, the cause of death was recorded as convulsions or seizures (görcsölben in the official Hungarian). Two more sons would follow: Jan (born 1878) and Michal (1880). (As morbid as it seems today, in that time and place it was fairly common to name a child after an earlier sibling who died.)

In 1890 or 1891, Andrej emigrated to America, leaving behind his parents and three living siblings. He settled in Raritan, home to a burgeoning immigrant community centered around the First Slovak Evangelical Lutheran Church (now St. Paul’s). His cousin Andrej Jr. joined him there around the same time. The two cousins would soon marry young women from back home: in 1896 my great-grandfather married Maria Daniel, from the neighboring town of Kysak; and in 1898 Andrej Jr. would marry Alžbeta Daniel (no relation), who hailed from Obišovce.

Back home in Trebejov, tragedy struck on New Year’s Eve 1895 when Jan Sabol was found frozen to death under a train overpass in Trebejov. In the late 1800s, a major rail line was constructed right alongside the town, passing less than 50 meters from the family farm. According to the death certificate, Jan was then working for the railroad as a day laborer. He was 61 years old.

Death certificate for my great-great-grandfather Jan Sabol, who died on Dec. 31, 1895 of gelation (freezing to death). Click to enlarge.

Death certificate for my great-great-grandfather Jan Sabol, who died on Dec. 31, 1895 of gelation (freezing to death). Click to enlarge.

A few years later, in 1901 or 1902, Jan’s widow Elisa (then nearly 60) and her two youngest sons Jan and Michal decided to join Andrej in America. I have the approximate date from census returns, but I have not been able to locate the actual immigration records.

It is not clear whether Alžbeta joined them. She would have turned 26 in 1901 and may have been married by then. It can be difficult tracing women in the paper record without knowing their married name. But there is one distressing clue in a census record from 1910 that suggests a different fate: Elisa says she had only three surviving children. So did Alžbeta die young?

In the New Jersey state archives, I was able to locate a marriage record for Michal (now using the English name Michael). On September 26, 1903 he married Anna Estvanik, a native of Kysak, at the Church of the Holy Trinity Roman Catholic church in Raritan. Michael was 21, Anna 18. It’s the first interfaith union I have come across in the Sabol family tree – evidence perhaps of America’s melting pot effect.

Census records indicate that Jan (now going by John) was married in 1902 or thereabouts. His wife was Alžbeta (Elizabeth) Ahercik. I did not find a marriage record in the archive. Perhaps they married back at the church in Obišovce?

John’s and Michael’s families appear in four successive censuses (1910-1940), living in the same house within blocks of brother Andrew and cousin Andrew Jr. Their mother – my great-great-grandmother Elisa – also lived with them.

In the 1920 census, for example, we see three Sabol households living on 3rd Street in Raritan, probably living in different apartments in the same house:

  • John and Elizabeth Sabol and their four children: Margaret (age 14), John Jr. (9), Rudolph (6) and Milton (10 months). John worked as a laborer for the railroad (just like his father Jan and brother Andrew) and daughter Margaret was already working at a lace factory (my grandmother similarly left school early to support the family).
  • Michael and Elizabeth Sabol and their three children: Michael Jr. (14), Anna (9) and Charles (4). Michael worked for the railroad as a hostler, an engineer who drives locomotives short distances for cleaning or repair (a far better gig than his two older brothers managed to land). Mother Elisa (now 78) lived with them.
  • A widower named George Sabol (46) with his four children: George Jr. (14), Dorothy (13), Anna (11) and Edward (8). Judging by his age, it is likely that George is the older brother of Andrew Sabol, Jr. – and my great-grandfather’s cousin.
1920 census record showing households of John, Michael and Goerge Sabol. Click to enlarge.

1920 census record showing households of John, Michael and George Sabol on 3rd Street in Raritan, N.J. Click to enlarge.

Within a year, Elisa would be dead. From her death certificate in the New Jersey state archives we see that the cause of death was a cerebral hemorrhage. The record indicates she was buried at the New Cemetery in Somerville, where I found my great-grandparents’ grave. That time I visited, I photographed a tombstone that caught my eye. It marked the final resting place of two young children – John and Mary Sabol – and someone named Elizabeth Filak who died in 1921. Could this be her grave? Seems pretty likely.

Grave marker from the New Cemetery, Somerville, N. J. Could Elizabeth Filak be my great-great-grandmother Elisa Sabol (nee Filak) who also died in 1921?

Grave marker from the New Cemetery, Somerville, N. J. Could Elizabeth Filak be my great-great-grandmother Elisa Sabol (nee Filak) who also died in 1921? I suspect so.

It would be great to connect with the descendants of these other Sabol families and to learn more about my great-grandfather’s brothers and cousins who emigrated to America. Maybe someone even has a photo of my great-grandfather. I would love to see what he looked like.

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The family plot

You might think it would be easy to find the final resting places of ancestors from my mother’s side of the family who lived in nearby New Jersey and only died within the last century. Think again.

In earlier posts, I have written about afternoons spent poking around Garden State cemeteries. On occasion, persistence paid off. There was the time my sister Cathy and I wandered about in the sweltering sun looking for ancestors from the Wyckoff family in Hopewell, N.J. It turned out that one grave – of our third great-grandfather Jacob James Wyckoff (1791-1867) – was actually visible from Cathy’s front porch!

We also found the grave site of our Civil War veteran ancestor Samuel Davis Agin (1841-1915) and his wife Rhoda Wyckoff (1850-1907) at an upscale cemetery in Princeton, N.J. We were disappointed to learn there was no tombstone, but working with an Agin family cousin I met through this blog we were able to get an official Union Army grave marker for Davis. I would still like to place a marker to remember Rhoda.

After a bit of sleuthing, I was also able to locate the graves of my Slovak immigrant great-grandparents Andrej (Andrew) Sabol (1872-1938) and Maria (Mary) Daniel (1880-1968) at the New Cemetery in Somerville, N.J.

And yet, three New Jersey ancestors have continued to elude me:

  • My great-grandfather Jacob Sylvester Agin (1868-1928), a native of Hopewell who lived for many years in Kingston, N.J. working as a drill operator in a local quarry. In the last decade of his life, he moved the family to nearby New Brunswick where he worked as a security guard.
  • Jacob’s wife Mathilde (Tillie) Miller (c. 1872-?), who emigrated from Germany with her widowed mother in the 1880s. My aunt Nancy Agin tells me Tillie remarried after Jacob’s death and was still living as recently as the early 1950s. It has been hard to find much of a paper trail for Tillie. No immigration record, no marriage record, no petition for naturalization and no death certificate. The last trace of her in the records is census return from 1920.
  • Tillie’s mother – and my great-great-grandmother – Mary Miller Vannote (c. 1850-1923), the immigrant widow who had two other marriages after coming to America. Her first marriage to an abusive husband named George (or was it Gus?) Hendrick (or was it Hendrock?) ended in divorce. Then, in 1903 she married William Vannote (c. 1850-1919), a famed “woman hater,” in a ceremony that became tabloid fodder from coast to coast.

Two years ago, my sisters Mary and Cathy and I went to the Kingston Presbyterian Cemetery. Cathy remembered how our grandmother Anna Agin (1904-1988) wanted to go there in the late 1980s, shortly before she died. They visited a spot along the cemetery’s east wall to pay respects to Mary Vannote, who died three months before Anna (then 18) married my grandfather Harry Agin (1900-1970). It’s interesting to think that after six decades, my grandmother still had fond memories of her husband’s German grandmother. (Her mother-in-law, I’m told, was another story.)

At the time of our visit I had proof, in the form of a notebook ledger entry from church records available on microfilm at the Family History Library, that William and Mary Vannote were buried at Kingston Presbyterian in 1919 and 1923 respectively. But the record didn’t provide a specific plot number.

Page from book of burial records from the Kingston Presbyterian Cemetery showing that Mary Vannote was buried there in July 1924.

Page from book of burial records from the Kingston Presbyterian Cemetery showing that Mary Vannote was buried there in July 1923.

We scoured that cemetery but could not find a grave marker for either of them. At the spot Cathy remembered, we did see one or two headstones that said simply “Vannote.” Alas, there was no office at this old, historic graveyard where we might ask for help.

Grave marker in the Kingston Presbyterian Cemetery, Kingston, NJ, marked simply Vannote. Could this be where my great-great-grandmother Mary Miller Vannote is buried?

Grave marker in the Kingston Presbyterian Cemetery, Kingston, NJ, marked simply Vannote. Could this be where my great-great-grandmother Mary Miller Vannote is buried?

A year later, I later found proof that Jacob Agin was most likely buried there too. Jacob’s 1928 obituary in the New Brunswick Home News states he was buried at “the family plot in Kingston.”

1928 obituary for my great-grandfather Jacob Sylvester Agin from the New Brunswick Home News. It notes that he was buried in a "family plot" in Kingston.

1928 obituary for my great-grandfather Jacob Sylvester Agin from the New Brunswick Home News. It notes that he was buried in “the family plot” in Kingston, NJ.

Recently, I went back to the Family History Library to see what else they had from the Kingston Presbyterian Church. I ordered two more microfilm reels and recently began to review them. Buried in those records was a terrific find: a cemetery map that gets us closer to figuring out where Jacob, William and Mary – and possibly even Tillie – were buried.

Along the cemetery’s east wall (at the bottom of the map by the road to Rocky Hill), at the spot where Grandma brought Cathy all those years ago, are three cemetery plots owned by William’s father, Peter Vannote. Peter was born around 1799 in Fort Monmouth, New Jersey and eventually settled in Kingston. He married three times – first to Susan Hunt, then to a woman named Sarah and finally to Margaret South. He died on May 10, 1872.

Peter had at least six children. William was the fifth of these, the son of Margaret South, born around 1850 when Peter was already over 50 years old.

It seems very plausible that William and his wife Mary, not exactly people of means, would be buried in one of those three family plots, five decades after Peter’s death. Why else would Peter own three separate plots, except to provide a way for family members to be buried together?

Map of the Kingston Presbyterian Cemetery, Kingston, NJ, from the Family History Library, Click to enlarge.

Map of the Kingston Presbyterian Cemetery, Kingston, NJ, from the Family History Library, Click to enlarge.

Detail of Kingston Presbyterian Cemetery map showing location of three plots owned by Peter Vannote.

Detail of Kingston Presbyterian Cemetery map showing location of three plots owned by Peter Vannote.

Also, in the map’s northeast corner, where the cemetery drive bends left by a tool shed, we see two large plots owned by a Jacob Akin. I did a search on ancestry.com and there is no evidence of a Jacob Akin living in that area at any time in the past 150 years. But we do know there was a Jacob Agin – and that he owned a family plot in Kingston. So this has to be him!

Detail of Kingston Presbyterian Cemetery map showing location of three plots owned by a "Jacob Akin." I believe these were actually owned by my great-grandfather Jacob Sylvester Agin.

Detail of Kingston Presbyterian Cemetery map showing location of three plots owned by a “Jacob Akin.” I believe these were actually owned by my great-grandfather Jacob Sylvester Agin.

Those two “Akin” plots are fairly large. I wonder who else might be buried there. I know from the old notebook that recorded the burials of William and Mary Vannote that Jacob’s youngest daughter Vivian Agin (1916-1920) – my grand aunt – was also buried there in February 1920. I know from a death certificate I found at the New Jersey state archives that little Vivian died of bronchial pneumonia and pertussis. I assumed she was buried with William, but now I’m wondering if Jacob and Vivian are buried together. Who else might be buried there? Could this also be the final resting place of my great-grandmother Tillie? Could this be the clue that helps me figure out Tillie’s final chapter?

My next step is to visit the church, armed with this map, to get confirmation of the exact burial locations. Then it would be nice to erect grave markers to remember these long-forgotten ancestors.

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A visit to Założce, my grandmother’s hometown

The highlight of my two-week trip to Poland and Ukraine this summer was a visit to the small town where my grandmother Katarzyna Bosakowska (1889-1966) was born. She knew the town by its Polish name, Założce (pronounced za-WOYZ-tseh). You’ll find it on the map today under its Ukrainian name, Zaliztsi (za-LEEZ-tsee).

My grandmother emigrated to America in 1912 at the age of 22 – and never saw her hometown again. She was one of at least 20 Bosakowski cousins to make that journey. At the time, Założce was a regionally significant town situated in the far northeast corner of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, about six miles from the Russian border. It had a population of about 7,000, comprised of Roman Catholics (mainly Poles), Greek Catholics (mainly Ukrainians) and Jews. Its houses of worship served nearly two dozen neighboring villages.

Old postcard of Zalozce Stare (Old Zalozce) with the Seret River in the foreground, the Roman Catholic church and school at right and a Greek Catholic church (or tserkva) at left. The postcard belonged to my grandmother, probably sent to her by a relative.

Old postcard of Założce Stare (Old Założce) with the Seret River in the foreground, the Roman Catholic church and school at right and a Greek Catholic church (or tserkva) at left. The postcard belonged to my grandmother, probably sent to her by a relative.

For whatever reason, the population of Założce began to decline in the early 20th century. I have a theory about this. Old church records indicate that the inhabitants of Założce were townspeople (oppidani in the official Latin). They made their living through trade (I noticed a lot of butchers in the family tree, for example) or by making things. One key local industry appears to have been shoe making. Multiple members of the Bosakowski family are identified in the church records as shoemakers (sutores).

I was struck by the fact that my great-grandfather Jozef Bosakowski (1847-?)  and two of his brothers, Piotr (1849-?) and Wojciech (1854-1893), served in the Austrian army before taking up this line of work. So did they parlay their military experience into a small business making boots for the military? And did that business eventually dry up when large-scale producers, using modern manufacturing techniques, were able to make boots faster and cheaper? Could that be why so many townspeople, including nearly two dozen Bosakowski family members, decided to leave?

After World War I, which broke out two years after my grandmother left, Założce found itself within the borders of the newly reconstituted Polish republic. Although the town was devastated during the war, due to its unfortunate location near the border, it appears to have bounced back in the 1920s and 1930s. A 1929 town directory lists dozens of merchants and tradespeople, including three Bosakowski family members – a swine herder named P. Bosakowski and two tobacconists identified as F. and St. Bosakowski.

But then World War II struck an even harsher blow. In 1939, the Soviets occupied eastern Poland in a secret deal with Hitler. Under two years of brutal Stalinist rule, many of the town’s residents were deported to Siberia – or killed. Then in 1941, the Nazis invaded and brought a new wave of death and destruction to the town. Almost all the town’s Jews, a third of the population, were killed. By March 1944, the Soviets pushed the Nazis back on their march to Berlin, claiming the territory for the USSR. Ukrainian paramilitary bands waged a campaign of terror against the Poles. Finally, in early 1945 the town’s Polish residents – whose families had called the area home for centuries – were expelled with three hours’ notice, “repatriated” to new homes within Poland’s new post-war borders. Over one million Poles were expelled from western Ukraine.

The town is now Zaliztsi. Its population, now almost entirely Ukrainian, is only a third of what it was a century ago. War, genocide, ethnic cleansing and emigration all took a toll. It’s a story common to many places in the borderland region of Central and Eastern Europe.

Location of Zaliztsi within the current borders of Ukraine. The town was known by Poles as Zalozce.

Location of Zaliztsi within the current borders of Ukraine. The town was known by Poles as Założce.

*   *   *

I made the trip with my third cousin Dariusz Bosakowski. Darek and I share the same second great-grand-grandparents, Bazyli Bosakowski (1822-?) and Rozalia Kwaśnicka (1824-1879), who raised a family of six sons and two daughters in Założce. I wrote in an earlier post about Bazyli’s rise from the son of peasants in nearby Milno to a respected townsperson.

We were joined by Ukrainian relatives of Darek’s who live in Ternopil, the nearest large city. These were Darek’s cousin Lena Klymenko, her husband Anatoliy and Lena’s grandfather Mykhaylo Kotsiunbovych. The three of them could not have been nicer, taking an afternoon to drive us there and show us around. And Lena and Anatoliy spoke excellent English, to boot.

Their family connection shines a poignant light on the town’s postwar history. Mykhaylo’s wife Jadwiga Lobaj was born and raised in Założce. Her parents were Anton Lobaj, a Ukrainian man, and Hanna Maliszewska, a Polish woman, both born in 1904. Marriages between Poles and Ukrainians were hardly unusual in that part of the world. I can see much evidence of that in my own family tree. Hanna was the sister of Darek’s grandmother Maria, who married Franciszek Bosakowski. So Darek and Lena are second cousins.

When that fateful day came in 1945, and the town’s Poles were getting ready to be herded onto cattle cars for their deportation to Poland, Hanna refused to go. She was married to a Ukrainian man, after all. She remained with her family and lived out her days in Zalozce. But her Polish family, including sister Maria and brother-in-law Franciszek, had to go.

Our little group departed from Ternopil on a bright and sunny Saturday afternoon. Midday thunderstorms cleared the air and by the time we reached Zaliztsi – a 35 km drive on two-lane roads – the weather seemed to getting nicer and nicer.

The town is situated on the banks of the Seret River, just as it opens up into a small lake or large pond created by a dam. (In Polish, the word is staw.) The main road passes along the lake, atop a levee, and then up into some hills.

View of Zalozce from the main road as it heads to the old cemetery. Click to enlarge.

View of Założce from the main road as it heads to the old cemetery. Click to enlarge.

This is how Założce was described in an 1895 “geographical dictionary” of towns and cities in the former Poland, the Slownik Geograficzny Krolestwa Polskiego:

Located there are a district court, a post office, a notary, a military station, a physician and a pharmacy. … Almost in middle of the territory flows the Seret River which at Założce becomes a vast pond. The pond is at elevation 315 meters above sea level. The city was built on the south side of the pond and on the right bank of the Seret River. The city includes a Castle which lies on left bank of the river among the wetlands. Together they comprise Założce Stare. Beyond the levee and at the south-east edge of the pond lies a portion of a town named Założce Nowe.

The town center is still there, on the southern bank of the pond, but there was not much in the way of commercial or official buildings. It is dominated by three structures: a Greek Catholic tserkva (or church) near the pond, a two-story school and the ruins of the Roman Catholic church. The only shops we saw were on the main road leading into town.

Once we turned off the main road, the pavement was dusty gravel. Not much appeared to be going on. As we got out of the car, a woman tending a lush garden took no notice of us. I peered into the school, which must be where my grandmother studied, but it was hard to make much out.

Woman tending garden before a typical home in the center of Zalozce. Click to enlarge.

Woman tending garden before a typical home in the center of Założce. Click to enlarge.

The old school in Zalozce, still there as it was in my grandmother's old postcard.

The old school in Założce, still there as it was in my grandmother’s old postcard. Click to enlarge.

Our first stop was the Lobaj family home, located near the ruined church. Mykhaylo opened the door and let us in. No one had lived in the house for awhile and the living room was being used for storage. Still, it was an amazing opportunity to see what a traditional home looked like.

There was a living room, kitchen and another locked room (presumably a bedroom). The entire house – which looked like many of the others – could not have been bigger than 700 square feet (65 square meters). It was difficult to imagine how it could accommodate the large families that were common back in the day.

Among the stored items, Mykhaylo pulled out a handsome framed portrait of Anton and Hanna Lobaj. It was wonderful to put a face on the people who made this small house their home.

The Lobaj family home in Zalozce. Mykhaylo gave us the tour. Click to enlarge.

The Lobaj family home in Założce. Mykhaylo gave us the tour. Click to enlarge.

Mykhaylo and Lena holding an old portrait of Anton and Hanna Lobaj. Click to enlarge.

Mykhaylo and Lena holding an old portrait of Anton and Hanna Lobaj. Click to enlarge.

Next, we walked through the foundations of the old castle. It seemed a lot less imposing than it did in some old photos I found online. I have to wonder if we missed part of it. Anyway, it was interesting to wander around the stone defensive walls – and a bit scary to descend into one of the dank rooms. In the distance, across the wetlands, was Założce Nowe (New Założce).

Panorama of ruins of Zalozce castle. Click to enlarge.

Panorama of ruins of Założce castle. Click to enlarge.

View of Zalozce Nowe from the ruined Zalozce castle. Click to enlarge.

View of Założce Nowe from the ruined Założce castle. Click to enlarge.

Walking back toward our car, we caught a horse drawn cart carrying a huge pile of hay, with the ruined church softly lit in the background. It was the trip’s Kodak moment, and I raced across the field to capture the money shot.

Horse drawn cart and the ruins of Zalozce's Roman Catholic Church of St. Antoni  (kościół sw. Antoniego). Click to enlarge.

Horse drawn cart and the ruins of Założce’s Roman Catholic Church of St. Antoni (kościół sw. Antoniego). Click to enlarge.

Now it was time to visit the church. Comparing it to pre-war photos, you can see that the church lost its roof and an entry portal. The stained-glass windows, of course, were also blown out. As you face the front of the church, the right side has become crowded with trees. The interior, too, is home to eight-foot trees standing straight like long-gone parishioners. I’m not sure how the church was destroyed. I’m pretty sure I read that the Soviets blew it up.

Although I was standing in the place where my grandmother was baptized, where generations of family baptisms, weddings and funerals took place, it was hard to summon any particular feeling. It felt like a truly ancient ruin. (Click on any image below to activate slideshow.)

Stepping across the old church yard, now a grassy lawn with a path beat across it, I compared the view in my mind to an old postcard of Założce that my Uncle Walter gave me (see above). The postcard shows the church and school from the vantage point of the river bank, just behind me. The riverbank is now clogged with trees so it not possible to recreate the image exactly. But the before-and-after contrast is still pretty striking.

The ruined St. Antoni's church in Zalozce (kościół sw. Antoniego), left, flanked by the old school. Cllick to enlarge.

The ruined St. Antoni’s church in Założce (kościół sw. Antoniego), left, flanked by the old school. Cllick to enlarge.

Next, we ambled further down the road to reach a small wooden footbridge crossing the river. I gazed out at the river, with its trees along the banks bending lazily toward the water, and thought how this must have looked much like this when my grandmother was a girl. As we crossed the bridge, I was touched to see Lena share an emotional moment with her grandfather. The visit had clearly brought back many memories of Mykhaylo’s late wife.

View of the Seret River, which runs through the center of Zalozce. Click to enlarge.

View of the Seret River, which runs through the center of Założce. Click to enlarge.

Mykhaylo and Lena reminisce on the wooden footbridge crossing the Seret River. Click to enlarge.

Mykhaylo and Lena reminisce on the wooden footbridge crossing the Seret River. Click to enlarge.

On the opposite side of the river was a small shrine. I thought it might be St. Anthony, after whom the ruined church – and my own father – were named, but I’m not sure. To the left, a road led into the residential streets of Założce Stare (Old Założce). Since time was short, I didn’t get a chance to wander through that part of  town. But you could see that some of the older houses had been renovated and enlarged. But many others seemed unchanged from a century ago.

Small saint's shrine on the banks of the Seret River. Was it St. Anthony, the ruined church's namesake? Click to enlarge.

Small saint’s shrine on the banks of the Seret River. Was it St. Anthony, the ruined church’s namesake? Click to enlarge.

A street in Zalozce Stare (Old Zalozce) on the other side of the Seret River. Click to enlarge.

A street in Założce Stare (Old Założce) on the other side of the Seret River. Click to enlarge.

On our way out of town, we passed by a house with a sign that advertised shoe repair. An interesting flashback to the days when my ancestors earned their livelihoods in this very place making shoes.

Sign advertising shoe repair, harkening back to the days when shoemaking was a big business in Zalozce. Click to enlarge.

Sign advertising shoe repair, harkening back to the days when shoemaking was a big business in Założce. Click to enlarge.

Our next stop was the old Catholic cemetery, up in the hills on the western side of town. We were able to get a good look at the town and the pond in the afternoon light.

View of Zalozce from the shore of the pond. Click to enlarge.

View of Zalozce from the shore of the pond. Click to enlarge.

A final photo with Darek on the shore of the pond, with Zalozce in the background. Click to enlarge.

A final photo with Darek on the shore of the pond, with Założce in the background. Click to enlarge.

I’ll write about our cemetery visit in another post. In the meantime, you can view a complete gallery of photos from this trip on my SmugMug page.

Posted in Family Line - Bosakowski, Zalozce/Zaliztsi | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

A (cadastral) map quest in Lviv

This past August, I traveled to western Ukraine to visit the small town where my grandmother Katarzyna Bosakowska (1889-1966) was born. On the way, I stopped in the beautiful city of Lviv to see if I could get my hands on an archival map from 1850 that would pinpoint the house where she lived.

Starting in 1817, the Austro-Hungarian Empire undertook a comprehensive cadastral survey project. These high-resolution maps covered 300 million square kilometers, including more than 30,000 cadastral communities. The maps were used to clarify land ownership. Today, they are scattered among archives in 12 different countries that once found themselves under Habsburg rule.

Last year I easily obtained, from an archive in Bratislava, high quality digital scans of cadastral maps for three ancestral hometowns in Slovakia. The maps, along with a packet of documents called protocols, allowed me identify the precise parcels of land my ancestors owned. Surely, with a little advance effort, I could get the cadastral map for my Polish ancestral hometown of Zalozce, now in a Ukrainian archive. The Central State Historical Archive in Lviv never responded to my emails. But now I had the chance to inquire in person.

Close but no cigar. With the help of a local, I was able to see the map and even touch it. But I wasn’t able to get a copy. And no one was able to find the crucial protocols that would allow me to identify my ancestors’ exact addresses.

*   *   *

I traveled to Lviv with my third cousin Dariusz Bosakowski. Darek and I share the same great-great-grandparents – Bazyli Bosakowski (1822-?) and Rozalia Kwaśnicka (1824-1879). I descend from their eldest son Józef; Darek is the progeny of their third son Karol.

As soon as we arrived we met up with another Bosakowski – Aleksander – a native of Lviv who I met via Facebook. It’s not clear how Aleksander’s Ukrainian branch of the family relates to our Polish branch. At the end of World War II, when my grandmother’s family members were forced to relocate to western Poland, Aleksander’s family was sent in the opposite direction. The Bosakowski name is unusual enough so I have to believe there is a connection. Short of a DNA test, I’m not sure how we’ll ever find out.

Anyway, Aleksander was kind enough to help us find that map. The quest would have been hopeless without him. He came to meet us in one of the city’s many beautiful squares and we were off and running. Our first stop was a small waiting room that might have inspired Kafka. We barged past a couple of people who looked like they had been sitting there for awhile. After some back and forth in Ukrainian we were off again, scampering down the cobblestone streets and alleys to an unmarked entrance with a medieval cast iron door. Climbing a dark stairway, we found ourselves in what I assume was the Central State Historical Archive.

(Click on images above for slideshow.)

More conversations in Ukrainian ensued. I was informed by the courteous archivist that they could retrieve the map if we gave them a couple of hours. With profuse thanks we were off again to grab a coffee on the pleasant terrace of the Glory Cafe. There we met Aleksander’s delightful wife Natalia, who works for NATO in Poland, and another member of the Ukrainian branch of the family, Marina Bosakowska, who hails from Kiev.

Polish, Ukrainian and Bosakowski family members meet at the Glory Cafe, Lviv. From right to left: Maria Bosakowska, John Kowal, Dariusz Bosakowski, Aleksander Bosakowski.

Polish, Ukrainian and Bosakowski family members meet at the Glory Cafe, Lviv. From right to left: Marina Bosakowska, John Kowal, Dariusz Bosakowski, Aleksander Bosakowski.

DSC03156

Aleksander Bosakowski and his wife Natalia at the Glory Cafe, Lviv.

After another stop to grab lunch, Aleksander took us on whirlwind tour of the city. We swung by the archive, which asked for more time. More sightseeing and beer drinking followed. Finally, we returned to the archive to find the cadastral map waiting there for us! It was bigger than I had expected – and beautifully hand colored. Interestingly, the town is identified as “Markt Zalosce,” German for Zalozce Market. I have not seen that on any other map. Perhaps the town was particularly known for commerce.

1850 cadastral map for my grandmother's hometown of Zalozce, Austria (now Zaliztsi, Ukraine). Not the high-resolution scan I was hoping for but a decent copy for now. Click to enlarge.

1850 cadastral map for my grandmother’s hometown of Zalozce, Austria (now Zaliztsi, Ukraine). Not the high-resolution scan I was hoping for but a decent copy for now. Click to enlarge.

From the map, you can see that Zalozce sits on the banks of the Seret River where it empties into a large pond. In the town’s center, we see two big landmarks: a Greek Catholic cerkiev (St. Trinitas) and a Roman Catholic church (identified here as St. Jacobus although from other records I understood it to be St. Antoni). The other large red structure was the ruins of an old castle fortress.

Unfortunately, my hopes of identifying my grandmother’s home were dashed. While the archivists were able to produce the map, they brought up the protocols for the town of Zalesie. When we pointed out the error, we were informed they could not find protocols for Zalozce. Furthermore, there was no way to get a scan or copy immediately. I paid the fee for a copy and Aleksander kindly offered to follow up with them to see that I eventually get it. For my upcoming trip to Zalozce, I had to content myself with a photograph.

Now that I’m back home, I have two major goals: to get a high quality copy of the map and to find out where those protocols are. Aleksander offered to help. But something tells me another trip is in order.

Visiting Lviv again wouldn’t be the worst thing. While we saw a lot thanks to Aleksander’s hospitality, it would be nice to stay a few days and get a better feel of that beautiful city.

Posted in Family Line - Bosakowski, Zalozce/Zaliztsi | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Preparing to visit my grandmother’s home town

When I started my family history project nearly four years ago, I knew I had a Polish immigrant grandmother but I had no idea where she came from. Now I’m getting ready to visit her birthplace: Zaliztsi, Ukraine – which she knew by its Polish name, Założce.

When Katarzyna Bosakowska, then 22 years old, left Założce in the spring of 1912, it was a small provincial hub in a remote corner of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, just six miles from the border with Russia. It had a population of just over 7000, comprised of Poles, Ukrainians, Jews, Germans and a smattering of other nationalities, as was typical in the borderlands of central and eastern Europe.

Postcard of Zalozce, Austria circa 1910. I managed to find it on eBay!

Postcard of Zalozce, Austria circa 1910. I managed to find it on eBay!

She got out right before life there changed forever.

Two years after my grandmother’s departure, World War I wreaked havoc on Założce as rival armies swept back and forth. By the war’s end, the Empire dissolved and the town found itself within the borders of a newly reconstituted Poland. Over the next two decades, the town recovered from the war and normalcy returned. But in 1939, Poland was wiped off the map yet again. When German troops conquered western Poland, the Soviets quietly occupied the eastern part of the country through a secret deal with the Nazis. Założce found itself under brutal Soviet rule. Two years later, when Germany invaded its erstwhile ally, the Nazis ushered in an even greater brutality, killing all the Jews and deporting and murdering many Poles. By 1944, when the tide of the war turned and the Red Army chased the invaders back to Germany, Soviet rule was restored. In the war’s waning days, Ukrainian militias harassed and killed Poles who had lived there for centuries. With only a day’s notice, the Poles of Założce were “repatriated” back to Poland. Families, friends and neighbors were dispersed all over the country. My grandmother’s two youngest brothers, Stanisław and Władysław, were resettled in two different cities in western Poland, far from their homes.

Map of Poland showing how the eastern border shifted after World War II. My grandmother's home town of Zalozce was located just north of Tarnopol in the southeast corner of the map.

Map of Poland showing how the eastern border shifted after World War II. My grandmother’s home town of Zalozce was located just north of Tarnopol in the southeast corner of the map. Her brother Stanislaw resettled near Poznan  in western Poland while Wladyslaw found himself in the vicinity of Katowice near the Czechoslovak border.

I’m excited to see where my grandmother came from. But the excitement is tinged with sadness when I think of everything that happened to that little town.

Perhaps for the same reason, it seems my grandmother never talked much about where she came from. When I visited my Uncle Walter (my father’s youngest brother) last year, he told me he always thought his mother came from Poznań, where Stanisław ended up after the deportations. I explained the whole sad story and he knew nothing about it. Later, when we went through a box of old photos, I came across an old postcard of Założce. I showed it to him and said this is where your mother came from. He gave me the postcard, and lots of other wonderful photos, which I cherish.

My Uncle Walter's postcard of Zalozce. It depicts the town's Catholic church and school.

My Uncle Walter’s postcard of Zalozce. It depicts the town’s Catholic church and school.

I am fortunate to be making the trip with a newfound Polish cousin, Dariusz Bosakowski, who has generously helped to organize the journey. Darek is the grandson of Franciszek Bosakowski, my grandmother’s cousin. Franciszek was the son of Karol Bosakowski and Katarzyna Czechowicz. Karol, the younger brother of my great-grandfather Józef, had at least twelve children by my count. five of whom emigrated to America.

On the way to Założce, we will make a stop at the Central State Historical Archives in Lviv. There, I hope to get my hands on cadastral maps that will help me locate the house where my grandmother lived. The family residence is listed in church records as Założce 94. I also hope to meet another Bosakowski I met online, Aleksander Bosakowski, who is a native of Lviv. We have not established the exact family connection but I suspect there is one.

Detail of 19th century cadastral map of Zalozce, taken from a Polish book about Roman Catholic churches. Courtesy of Remigiusz Paduch from the website Olejow na Podolu.

Detail of 19th century cadastral map of Zalozce, taken from a Polish book about Roman Catholic churches. Courtesy of Remigiusz Paduch from the website Olejow na Podolu.

Others who have been to Założce tell me it is “lost in time,” with a smaller population now than when my grandmother lived there. Now inhabited solely by Ukrainians, the institutions of Polish life – the Catholic church and the parochial school depicted in my uncle’s postcard  – lay in ruins.

I’m particularly interested to see the cemetery. The last time I was in Poland, I picked up a book called Podróże po cmentarzach Ukrainy – part of a multi-volume set documenting the Polish Catholic cemeteries in the areas of western Ukraine that were once Poland. From the chapter on Założce, it would seem that there is a large cemetery that is kept up reasonably well. I wonder if I can find my ancestors there.

Cover of Podróże po cmentarzach Ukrainy Vol. II, part of a set covering abandoned Polish cemeteries in western Ukraine.

Cover of Podróże po cmentarzach Ukrainy Vol. II, part of a set covering abandoned Polish cemeteries in western Ukraine.

Posted in Family Line - Bosakowski, Zalozce/Zaliztsi | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Six immigrant ancestors and the fault lines of World War I

To the day they died, I’m sure my immigrant ancestors remembered where they were when they learned of the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, one hundred years ago. That calculated act of terrorism plunged the countries of their birth – Germany, Austria and Russia – into a brutal, four-year war, which they experienced from afar.

Front page of the New York Sun, June 29, 1914, announcing the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo.

Front page of the New York Sun, June 29, 1914, announcing the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo.

I wonder how they coped. Were their friends and family personally affected? Without telephones or email, how were they able to know their loved ones were all right? When the United States finally entered the war in 1917, how did some of them deal with the taint of being associated with an enemy nation?

When war broke out in July 1914, I had six immigrant ancestors living in New York and New Jersey. All of them came from countries swept up in what people would soon call the Great War.

Mary Miller Vannote and Tillie Miller Agin

My great-great-grandmother Mary Miller and her daughter Mathilde, who went by Tillie, emigrated from Germany some time in the 1880s. Based on a notation in Mary’s death record, it is possible – even probable – that they hailed from Koblenz, a historic city at the confluence of the Rhine and Moselle Rivers in southwestern Germany. Despite its close proximity to France, Koblenz remained far from the action on the Western Front. But after the war, the French occupied the city for a decade.

In July 1914, Mary (then around 64 years old) was living in Kingston, N.J. with her husband William Vannote. The couple had married a decade earlier in a marriage that became a tabloid sensation. It was Mary’s third marriage, following a divorce, and William was a famous “woman hater” who had reportedly not spoken to a woman in the 37 years preceding their nuptials.

Tillie, then about 42, was also living in Kingston with her husband Jacob Sylvester Agin, my great-grandfather who was then 45. Jacob worked in a limestone quarry; Tillie was a homemaker. When the war started, the couple had seven children ranging in age from 19 years to three months. My grandfather Harry, their third, was 13 at the time. Their eighth and last child, Vivian, would be born in 1916.

I don’t know how invested Mary and Tillie were in their German identity. At a time when most immigrants lived in isolated ethnic enclaves where they found spouses from the same hometown, it’s striking that they both married American men. Under the practice at that time, Mary and Tillie took on American citizenship automatically.

Many German-Americans opposed our getting involved in the conflict, particularly as allies of Germany’s enemies Britain and France. I wonder how Mary and Tillie felt.

After a quarter century in this country, it’s possible that Mary and Tillie were fairly assimilated (particularly Tillie, who came here as a child). But that probably didn’t shield them from the wave of fierce, anti-German sentiment that swept the country. During a period when sauerkraut was renamed “liberty cabbage” and Germans were depicted in war propaganda as “The Hun,” it must have been uncomfortable for them.

Poster promoting the sale of liberty bonds during World War I. Typical for the time, the artwork portrayed German soldiers as barbaric "Huns."

Poster promoting the sale of liberty bonds during World War I. Typical for the time, the artwork portrayed German soldiers as barbaric “Huns.”

I don’t know anything about the family and friends they left behind (I’m still looking for evidence connecting them to a particular hometown), but they must surely have worried about friends and loved ones back in Germany.

I can confirm that Jacob and Tillie’s oldest son Jacob Jr. (he later went by James) had to register for the draft in the closing months of the war. The registration form shows that James, then 21, worked at the Wright Martin Corporation factory in New Brunswick. He still lived with his family, which relocated to a house on Somerset Street in New Brunswick. I know that the Kingston quarry closed in 1918, and I believe Jacob relocated the family to take a new job as a security guard.

World War I draft registration for Jacob Sylvester (James) Agin Jr., dated June 1918.

World War I draft registration for Jacob Sylvester (James) Agin Jr., dated June 1918.

Andrew and Mary Sabol

Meanwhile, my Slovak great-grandparents Andrej (Andrew) Sabol and Maria (Mary) Daniel were raising a family in nearby Raritan, N.J. They were born citizens of the Austro-Hungarian Empire: their hometowns of Trebejov and Kysak were located in the province of Upper Hungary. Andrew emigrated in 1891 and Mary came over in 1895.

When the war broke out in 1914, they had four children ranging in age from 14 to 2. My grandmother Anna, their second, was 9 years old. Andrew, then 42, worked as a railway laborer. Mary, then 34, was a homemaker and may have been running a boarding house for immigrant factory workers (as reflected in the 1910 census).

Andrew became a U.S. citizen in 1900, which meant that Mary was automatically considered a citizen too. It’s not clear what they considered their native country to be. On four successive census returns, from 1900 to 1930, they listed their home country as Austria, Hungary, “Slovakland” and Czechoslovakia. My grandmother would always say her parents came from Austria (near Vienna, she’d insist, which was way off).

But since Austria-Hungary was a multi-ethnic state with significant regional differences, it’s hard to know how invested any of my ancestors were in an “Austrian” identity. Austria, of course, was an enemy country as much as Germany was, but it’s not clear that Austrians suffered the same stigma Germans did. This may have been particularly true for non-German speaking immigrants from the Empire.

Andrew and Mary’s hometowns of Trebejov and Kysak were far from the Eastern Front, and the region was spared the ravages of war – apart from a fatal military train crash at Kysak’s strategic railway junction in 1918. But it does appear that many men from the area were called up in Austria’s general military mobilization. Did they worry about friends or family members fighting in the war? Or, after two decades in this country, did their ties to the old country fade away?

After the U.S. entered the conflict, their oldest son Andrew Jr. signed up for the draft. The draft registration card is dated September 1918. The war was over two months later and Andrew Jr. was not called up.

Draft registration form for Andrew Sabol Jr. dated September 1918.

Draft registration form for Andrew Sabol Jr. dated September 1918.

Katarzyna Bosakowska

My grandmother Katarzyna (Katherine) Bosakowska came to this country in April 1912, two years before the war started. She was also a citizen of Austria, from a town called Założce in the mostly Polish province of Galicia. Założce was situated in the far northeast corner of the Empire, a mere 10 km from the Russian border.

She got out just in time. For four long years, the people of Założce suffered terribly. On August 19, 1914 – three weeks after the start of hostilities – the Russian army crossed the Seret River at Założce and kept moving west. For the next year, the town’s inhabitants lived under Russian military occupation.

By September 1915, a joint Austrian-German offensive pushed the Russian army back across the border. After some gains and losses for both sides, the fighting bogged down along a thousand-mile Eastern Front that passed right through Założce. The town saw significant fighting throughout 1916, including the Brussilov Offensive, the final big military push by the Russian forces. Each time control was wrested back, the residents of Zalozce were subjected to another round of arrests, deportations and executions.

Map of the Eastern Front of World War I, March 1916.

Map of the Eastern Front of World War I, March 1916. Click to enlarge.

Those battles caused a lot of physical damage too. The town’s Roman Catholic church – the place where my grandmother was baptized and were my great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents were married – was burned to the ground. And, tragically for this genealogy buff, the church’s metrical books of vital records, dating back to 1654, was destroyed in the fire – taking generations of family history along with it. Fortunately, Austria required the recording of a duplicate set of records in 1826. These were kept by the archbishop in Lviv. Otherwise there would be no surviving records for the Bosakowski family line.

Image of the ruined Roman Catholic Church in Zalozce, Austria circa 1916. From the website Olejow na Podolu.

Image of the ruined Roman Catholic Church in Zalozce, Austria circa 1916. From the website Olejow na Podolu.

In addition to the civilian hardships, family members and friends must also have served as soldiers. In an online registry of service members from the region, I see that Katarzyna’s cousin Zygmunt Bosakowski (son of her Uncle Wojciech) was an Austrian soldier who went missing in the early days of the war. Zygmunt, born in 1891, was close in age to my grandmother, who was born in 1889. He was 23 when he went missing.

Far from the fighting, Katarzyna was working as a live-in servant for a family of Russian immigrants on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. I wrote about that job – working for a man later found to be swindling immigrants in a fraudulent mail order phonograph scheme – in an earlier post.

Katarzyna had lots of family here in the America, including her younger sister Honorata, younger brother Wincenty and numerous cousins. But throughout her life she also stayed in touch with the family she left behind, including her two youngest brothers Stanisław and Władysław. I suspect that her father Józef was still alive in 1914. When Katarzyna immigrated in April 1912, Józef was listed as next of kin. When Wincenty followed suit in September 1913, he was again listed as next of kin. Józef would have been 67 years old. His wife Maria Buczna, who would have been 51, may also have been alive.

Given the difficult situation in Założce, how were they able to stay in touch? I can only imagine the stress, the fear and the uncertainty this must have caused.

In official documents, Katarzyna always listed Austria as the country of her birth. Again, it’s not clear how much she identified with Austria personally. Did she feel any stirrings of longing or patriotism for the country of her birth? Interestingly, Katarzyna is the only one of my immigrant ancestors who never became an American citizen. My grandfather Alex Kowal applied for naturalization in 1940, once the government started registering aliens as we moved closer to involvement in World War II. Katarzyna was content to register as an alien. I’m not sure that this was out of attachment to the Empire, which dissolved in 1919. My guess is that she was not a terribly “political” person.

Alex Kowal

My grandfather Alex Kowal was the only one of my immigrant ancestors, who came to America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, to hail from an allied country. A Ukrainian, Alex was born a citizen of the Russian Empire. He left for Canada in September 1912 and came to the United States in March 1913.

His hometown of Kharucha Vel’ka was located in Volhynia province, about 150 km from the Austrian border – far enough east to be spared the war’s destruction. While the Eastern Front moved back and forth throughout the course of the fighting, Austrian and German troops never penetrated that far into Russian territory.

Alex left at least two living family members behind when he emigrated. He listed his father Philemon as next of kin in immigration documents. And I remember my grandfather telling me many years ago that he had an older brother who was taken away by soldiers. I always imagined he was impressed into the military, but I now surmise he he was arrested for participating in an illegal strike. I don’t know the older brother’s name or whatever became of him. Did he have to fight in the war?

My grandfather would certainly have been a prime candidate for military service – 22 years old when the war started. He certainly dodged a bullet, figuratively if not literally, by coming to America. Oddly enough, I can’t find any evidence that he signed up for the draft here in the United States. As I understand it, every man between the ages of 18 and 45 was required to sign up – regardless of immigration status. Did he fail to fulfill this duty? Or is the registration form simply lost?

I actually know very little about my grandfather’s whereabouts during his first three years in America. In his April 1913 immigration record, Alex and three friends indicated they were all going to Kreischerville, Staten Island to meet up with someone named Nestor Greshevitz (it was actually Grushewsky). (Bowing to the anti-German feeling sweeping the country, Kreischerville would soon be renamed Charleston.) He next appears in a paper record in November 1916, when he married my grandmother at St. George’s Ukrainian Catholic church in Manhattan’s East Village. The marriage certificate indicates that he lived at 182 Madison Street on the Lower East Side. He was employed as a “laborer.”

There’s something poetic about that wedding. At a time when their two countries were at war – and, to put a fine point on it, when their armies were laying waste to Katarzyna’s hometown – a Polish woman from Austria and a Ukrainian man from Russia managed to straddle the fault lines of World War I and find love.

Wedding portrait of my grandparents Alex Kowal and Katarzyna Bosakowskia, who were married on November 12, 1916 at St. George's Ukrainian Catholic Church in Manhattan's East Village.

Wedding portrait of my grandparents Alex Kowal and Katarzyna Bosakowskia, who were married on November 12, 1916 at St. George’s Ukrainian Catholic Church in Manhattan’s East Village.

 

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